Sarah McCleery: The enduring appeal of Domaine Bousquet

Having hel­ped Domai­ne Bous­quet into the UK mar­ket for the first time, when she was wor­king with UK impor­ter Vin­ta­ge Roots, wine wri­ter Sarah McCleery is re-uni­ted with Anne Bous­quet and hus­band Labid Al Ame­ri over din­ner at London’s Soho Hou­se. The domaine’s 1600 metre high loca­tion at the foothills of the Andes is the per­fect pla­ce to prac­ti­se orga­nic viti­cul­tu­re which shows in the fresh­ness of the fruit-for­ward wine ran­ge, the new addi­tions to which McCleery reviews inclu­ding the flagship Gran Mal­bec 2018 and Ame­ri Mal­bec 2019

I know that there’s a lot of enthusiasm for Malbec and chocolate but as uncultured as I perhaps sound, it’s a combo that’s wasted on me,” writes McCleery.

The Argen­ti­ne esta­te, Domai­ne Bous­quet is not new to me. Back in the happy days when I was gain­fully emplo­yed at Vin­ta­ge Roots, I think I’m right in saying that we were the first impor­ter to bring the wines to the UK.

An invi­ta­tion to a Bous­quet din­ner at Soho Hou­se was, the­re­fo­re, hap­pily accepted.

Jean Bous­quet bought 400 hec­ta­res of vine­yard in the arid terrain of the Gual­ta­llary Valley in the 1990s. French family, friends, and collea­gues he left behind thought he was crac­kers, and his new ‘neigh­bours’ were, in daugh­ter Anne’s words, “sus­pi­cious”. He paid $200/hectare at the time. Not a bad invest­ment, with today’s pri­ces clo­ser to $1000/hectare.

Domaine Bousquet
Domai­ne Bous­quet: an ideal pla­ce for orga­nic viticulture

For Bous­quet, this land was a dream find. Alti­tu­des reaching 1600 meters abo­ve sea level and ideal diur­nal tem­pe­ra­tu­res offe­red the pos­si­bi­lity of gro­wing gra­pes that would yield fruit-for­ward, yet fresh wines. The area’s par­ti­cu­lar cli­ma­te also made it an ideal pla­ce for orga­nic viti­cul­tu­re. The need to sort water and elec­tri­city sup­plies and build access roads see­med like an enti­rely reaso­na­ble pri­ce to pay. With not much other than the odd con­dor for com­pany, it is impos­si­ble not to admi­re the spi­rit of Jean Bousquet.

As Anne Bous­quet neatly remarks her dad moved from being des­cri­bed as “crazy to visio­nary” in 2004, when the Bous­quet wines came fifth out of 160 wine­ries at a wine fair in Mia­mi. This was also the time that Anne and hus­band, Labid al Ame­ri joi­ned the busi­ness. Eco­no­mist and finan­cial tra­der res­pec­ti­vely, they make for an impres­si­vely shrewd duo. They would beco­me full owners of the busi­ness in 2011.

Anne Bous­quet talks keenly about Domai­ne Bousquet’s orga­nic ethos. For the esta­te being orga­nic isn’t just about what hap­pens in the vine­yards and winery. “For us, being orga­nic is based around three cen­tral pillars. Orga­nic viti­cul­tu­re as well as social and eco­no­mic fac­tors.” Anne cites the oppor­tu­ni­ties that Domai­ne Bous­quet has offe­red local peo­ple. Staff who have joi­ned to work in roles on the bottling line have had the oppor­tu­nity to grow with the busi­ness. One lady in par­ti­cu­lar is today, Anne’s “right hand” woman, in char­ge of pur­cha­sing and a core mem­ber of the senior mana­ge­ment team.

Domaine Bousquet
Gui­llau­me Bous­quet, Anne Bous­quet and Labid al Ame­ri (l‑r)

The eco­no­mics are a little har­der to get to grips with. Domai­ne Bous­quet buys in 50% of the fruit they need. Abid tells us that he offers a 15% uplift to gro­wers who are orga­nic, in a bid to sup­port increa­sed con­ver­sion to orga­nic viti­cul­tu­re. I sus­pect this isn’t unu­sual, with other lar­ger wine­ries doing like­wi­se. It is also hard to know whether 15% is suf­fi­cient to sup­port gro­wers in the transition from con­ven­tio­nal to orga­nic. Labid tells us that they do buy ‘in con­ver­sion’ fruit, selling it on to appro­pria­te markets.

There’s also the fact that the road to orga­nic cer­ti­fi­ca­tion is a three-year long pro­cess. It is a costly pro­cess and not without risk. Secu­ring cla­rity on the mat­ter, at the din­ner table, isn’t an easy task. My fee­ling, from the num­bers given, is that inde­pen­dent gro­wers have con­ver­ted – or are on the road – to orga­nic cer­ti­fi­ca­tion with a pro­por­tion of their vine­yards. Anne is also can­did about the cul­tu­ral cha­llen­ges of secu­ring long-term con­tracts with gro­wers – a con­cept that is currently alien to many growers.

Still, if anyo­ne can chan­ge the cul­tu­ral thin­king, it would be a fool who would bet against Anne and Labid in doing so.

The wines are as slick as they have always been. Rodri­go Serrano has led the wine­ma­king team sin­ce 2017. His impres­si­ve CV inclu­des Terra­zas de los Andes, Domino del Pla­ta, and Bian­chi (Argen­ti­na). His deft touch with Mal­bec has gai­ned con­si­de­ra­ble trac­tion in his time with Bous­quet, the wines at din­ner pro­ving to be something of a Mal­bec masterclass.

Domaine Bousquet

The Domai­ne Bous­quet wine flight at Soho House

The eve­ning kic­ked off with the emi­nently drin­ka­ble 2019 Char­don­nay. The wine stri­kes a win­ning balan­ce bet­ween ripe­ness and fresh­ness. Six month of oak ageing lends creamy tex­tu­re to see­ping tro­pi­cal citrus fruit. I have just enough left to drink along­si­de the sal­mon cevi­che, avo­ca­do, jala­peno and burnt oran­ge starter.

Next up came Fin­ca Lalan­de Mal­bec 2021. Though not one of Bousquet’s pre­mium wines, it was my wine of the eve­ning. I love Mal­bec best of all when it comes with a spot of earthy crunch and a nod to its more rus­tic ori­gins. Oak-free, it’s a bustling, cha­rac­ter­ful offe­ring with ripe hed­ge­row fruit.

Not yet in the UK, Gaia Mal­bec Nou­veau Car­bo­nic Mace­ra­tion 2020 is an opi­nion-split­ting offe­ring. I find it a little hefty for its car­bo­nic mace­ra­tion ori­gins. In kee­ping with all Bous­quet wines, the fruit is ripe and plen­ti­ful, but I would pre­fer some con­tain­ment of the 16% alcohol cited on the tech­ni­cal spec.

Not on the tas­ting sheet, a cheeky Gaia Caber­net Franc 2020 makes an appea­ran­ce befo­re the main cour­se. Pep­pery black fruits with a whiff of char­coal, it’s a polished new world Caber­net Franc with ten months of oak ageing.

Along comes the hou­se steak and chips (what else?!) with a pou­ring of Gaia Mal­bec 2020. The Gaia ran­ge is made enti­rely from esta­te-grown gra­pes, dis­tin­guishing the wines from the ‘pre­mium ran­ge’ which are blen­ded with pur­cha­sed fruit. It’s another suc­cu­lent, moreish Mal­bec. More con­cen­tra­ted than the Fin­ca Lalan­de, there’s a touch of sweet spi­ce too, the tan­nins mel­ting seam­lessly into the fruit.

The final two wines of the eve­ning are the Gran Mal­bec and the estate’s flagship wine, Ameri.

Gran Mal­bec 2018 is made from fruit har­ves­ted from the first vine­yard, plan­ted in the late 1990s. The site is dis­tin­cti­ve becau­se of its sandy soils which lend con­si­de­ra­ble ele­gant wines. Mal­bec is sup­por­ted by 5% each of Caber­net Sau­vig­non, Mer­lot and Syrah with fer­men­ta­tion and ageing taking pla­ce in French oak. Unde­niably classy, Gran Mal­bec is as fresh as a daisy with impres­si­ve fruit con­cen­tra­tion and balan­ce. For the first time I pick out more pru­ne, fig and dark cho­co­la­te fla­vours and am plea­sed that it stays fresh on its feet to the finish.

I know that there’s a lot of enthu­siasm for Mal­bec and cho­co­la­te but as uncul­tu­red as I perhaps sound, it’s a com­bo that’s was­ted on me. I didn’t skip the cho­co­la­te moe­lleux, cara­me­li­sed whi­te cho­co­la­te and bana­na but I did opt to enjoy the Ame­ri Mal­bec 2019 solo.

Named after co-owner Labid Al Ame­ri, the wine is appro­pria­tely effu­si­ve and smooth at the same time! Mal­bec fruit comes from the highest (1,257 meters abo­ve sea level) plan­ted vine­yard on the pro­perty. Fer­men­ted and aged in French oak, it is more sum­ptuous than the Gran Mal­bec. Broad and deep, Ame­ri is long-lived and finely balan­ced in every way. A hugely enjo­ya­ble finish to an enter­tai­ning and illu­mi­na­ting evening.

Domai­ne Bous­quet wines are avai­la­ble from: Vin­ta­ge Roots, Davy’s Wine Mer­chants and Cham­pag­ne & Château


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